From Bambi to Bullwinkle

One club in West Feliciana Parish is beginning to discover what a neighboring club has known for a while now: Isolated antler restrictions produce big deer.

Michael Fazende and his 11-year-old son David settled into the box stand Nov. 1 hoping to get a jump on the other members on their 1,200-acre West Feliciana lease.

The elder Fazende couldn’t shoot because the weekend was reserved for youth hunts, but David was anxious.

It wasn’t that David had never shot a deer; he’d downed upwards of 20 deer in his short hunting career.

He simply loved to shoot deer.

“He’s got an itchy finger,” father Michael chuckled.

At 4:30 p.m., movement caught the hunters’ eyes, and it looked like David would get to scratch the itch on his trigger finger.

The deer finally emerged onto the food plot, and antlers glinted in the sun.

A quick count through two pairs of binoculars revealed the buck was a 6-pointer. Michael’s and David’s hearts sank.

“We were going nuts. It’s his chance to kill a deer, and he can’t shoot,” the elder Fazende said.

You see, the club had just implemented a rule mandating members only kill those bucks with at least 8 points and an inside spread of 12 inches.

“For the next 45 minutes, we watch this 6-pointer,” Michael Fazende said. “We each had a pair of binoculars, and we watched it trying to make it grow points.

“It gives us all kinds of opportunities to shoot it.”

At 5:15, the tension inside the box stand increased.

“The 6-pointer looked back into the woods,” Michael Fazende said.

Two sets of binoculars turned to the edge of the food plot, trying to determine what had piqued the buck’s interest.

A few minutes later, they found out.

“That’s when a big 10-pointer walked out,” Michael said.

David Fazende could barely control his excitement as he maneuvered his .270 Winchester out of the side window of the stand to prepare for a shot.

“I couldn’t believe it. It’s the biggest buck I’ve seen; the biggest I’ve ever killed was a 9-pointer,” Michael said. “I couldn’t take the gun and say, ‘Let me shoot it.’ It was David or nothing.”

The 6-pointer, meanwhile, had walked across the food plot and locked antlers with his larger-racked brethren.

“I can take him,” David whispered through ragged breaths.

But the tussling bucks made the shot difficult, and the young hunter’s father told him to wait.

While the two deer shoved each other around, a second 6-pointer followed the same path into the field as the 10-pointer. It began feeding in such a position as any pass-through shot on the 10-pointer could hit the third buck.

“I can shoot him,” David quietly repeated, the urgency in his voice increasing.

Still, Michael held the boy back, not wanting to take a chance at killing the 6-point with the same shot.

Finally, the three deer walked toward the center of the food plot, and the smaller bucks moved away from the 10-pointer.

David’s finger moved to the trigger, but he was told to wait.

“The buck was facing us; I told David to wait until it turned broadside,” Michael said.

The two hunters were almost dizzy with excitement.

“He’s shaking. I’m shaking,” Michael said. “I kept hoping that it wouldn’t run off before David could shoot. David said a little prayer that it wouldn’t run off.

“He kept saying, ‘It’s only a deer. It’s only a deer.’”

And then one of the 6-pointers walked too close to the big buck.

“The 10-pointer turned to face him, and I told him to take him,” Michael said.

The younger Fazende didn’t need to be told, however.

“Before I could finish the statement, he shot,” Michael said.

The buck streaked out of the food plot and into a thicket, where it hit the ground.

The experience taught the Fazende boys a valuable lesson: You never know what’s coming out next.

“Last year, we would’ve shot the (first) 6-pointer, and we never would have known about the 10-pointer,” Michael Fazende said.

The club, of which Fazende has been a member 12 years, always mandated 6-points or better with an eye toward killing mature, big-racked deer.

The 10 members would normally kill about 18 bucks a year, with approximately a third being the 6-point variety and the rest topping 8 points.

But after the 2001-02 season, they finally decided to make a step up in their management plan. The 8-point rule was instituted.

“We decided that if we let those 6-points go, we’ll have a lot more 8-pointers to shoot,” Fazende said.

It remains to be seen if that will happen on this club, but the scheme has worked on another club in the northern portion of West Feliciana Parish.

The hunters there began much like most clubs.

“If it was brown, it was down,” Baton Rouge’s Bill Cobb chuckled.

The club’s property spread across about 1,500 acres, and the deer herd was healthy.

And then Cobb got lucky.

He killed a deer carrying 12 points on a 21-inch frame in 1991.

The deer gross-scored at about 175 Boone & Crockett, with a final score of 162.

“That change the mode of the entire operation,” Cobb said.

The members of the club saw what the property could produce, and they decided they wanted to see more deer like ol’ Big Boy.

An 8-point rule was instituted. This initial step in the trophy management of the property allowed hunters to shoot any buck with 8 points.

That satisfied the hunters for a while, but it wasn’t long before they were ready for the next step.

A 13-inch rule was added, and about five years ago the minimum spread was increased to 15 inches.

During this time, the club’s success fluctuated. When the club would up the minimum requirements, the number of bucks killed the following year would drop.

But all members had to do was look on the wall of their club house to remember the reason for their sacrifices.

“I mounted Big Boy and put him in the lodge,” Cobb said.

Other members added proof of the management plan’s success as they killed big bucks.

Even with that encouragement, however, the transition wasn’t always easy.

The implementation of the 15-inch rule ushered in the most-trying period for the club.

Buck kills dropped way down, and members were just about ready to throw in the towel by the third year.

But during the fourth year, the club was rewarded for their patience when big-racked bucks finally showed up.

Cobb killed three bucks easily besting the 15-inch mark that year, and then in Dec. 1999 club guest Tim Screen of Baton Rouge killed a monstrous deer.

The buck only beat the 15-inch minimum by an inch, but the rack was a maze of antlers. In all, there were 21 points.

That buck now hangs above the lodge’s fireplace, and members regularly look to it and Cobb’s Big Boy for reassurance that they are on the right track.

But Cobb is the first to admit that simply instituting harvest rules had little effect initially.

“At first we just tried to use the honor system, but if you don’t have a fine, then there’s no incentive to follow the rules,” he explained. It wasn’t that everyone broke the rules, but mistakes were made because there was no real consequences if a deer didn’t measure up.

“It took monetary fines.”

While fines have changed over the years, most bucks that wear less than 8 points or don’t encompass at least 15 inches of air cost the offending member or guest $250. The only exceptions are when buttons or very small spikes are mistakenly shot for does.

Fazende said his club, too, has instituted a fine system.

“If a buck’s rack is inside the 12-inch minimum, then it’s $50 an inch,” he said. “It’s not that extreme.”

The reason is simple: The members of Fazende’s club didn’t want to take all the fun out of hunting.

“If someone messes up, I don’t think it’ll be that big a deal. You just pay your fine and that’s it,” he said.

But the mindset of the hunters in the club is shifting.

“I can see the attitudes evolve,” Fazende said. “Now it’s exciting to see a 6-pointer and come back to the camp and talk about it.”

It takes time and patience to reach the goals of heavy-racked bucks, as Cobb and the other hunters in his club know.

Today, after more than five years of protecting bucks with fewer than 8 points and racks narrower than 15 inches wide, one might expect massive bucks to be wandering all over the club’s more than 4,000 acres.

But Cobb said that just hasn’t been the case.

“Fact is, last year there were only a couple of decent bucks killed,” he said. “You’re passing up good bucks, and where do they go?”

One of the problems, the veteran hunter believes, is that neighboring clubs aren’t on strict management plans.

“I think our neighbors are shooting them,” Cobb said. “If Bambi crossed the creek, it was a dead deer.”

That was a particular problem when his club numbered only 1,500 acres, but two years ago the owner of the club’s land bought about 3,000 acres on the eastern boundary of the property, and added it to the land available to Cobb and his fellow hunters.

It still remains to be seen if this will provide enough land to truly control the number of young bucks being killed by other clubs, but Cobb said he is excited about the possibilities.

“Now we own the neighbor’s land,” Cobb said. “Last year we didn’t really hunt the new land that much, so this is the first year we’re really seeing what it holds.”

One of the things that has made it possible for the members of Cobb’s club to maintain their resolve is the fact that they are on the state’s Deer Management Assistance Program and, therefore, have doe tags allowing them to take deer throughout the season.

“Does are extremely important,” Cobb said.

Fazende, whose club also participates in DMAP, said the presence of doe tags was a deciding factor in the club moving to the 6-point rule.

“We get the doe tags, so we have fun shooting does,” he said. “That lets us take some meat home for the table.”

Of course, managing the number of does on a piece of property also pays dividends in any buck management program.

But Cobb said that sometimes filling the 70 tags his club has can be a challenge.

“Our total harvest last year was only 31 or 32 deer,” he said. “You would have five people go out and have one person see a button. They just didn’t move.

“It was terrible.”

But many clubs have to go into a shooting frenzy during the closing weeks of the season to try and fill their tags because of a hesitation by members to shoot does.

That has been a problem at Fazende’s club.

“At the end of the year, we were turning in 10 to 12 doe tags,” he said.

So the members developed a way to encourage the shooting of does.

“We made a game of it,” he said. “Everybody gets four tags, and everybody puts $100 into the pot.”

At the end of the season, the total weight of the first three does killed by each member is added up.

The member whose three deer tally the most combined weight pockets $600, while second place gets $300 and third receives $100.

“All of a sudden, you’re on a stand and your heart’s pounding when a doe comes out,” Fazende said. “All of a sudden, you’re having fun shooting does.”

And at the same time, the club members are helping maintain a deer population that isn’t stressing the habitat, making the production of larger-racked bucks possible.

“You’re doing the right thing with your management,” Fazende said.

So what does the future hold for Fazende’s club? Will the members steadily increase the restrictions in hopes of killing true trophies?

Fazende said he hopes so, but he believes it will be a gradual process.

“I think we’ll probably hunt like this two or three years and see what happens,” Fazende said.

If the members begin seeing more 6-points, he believes a permanent 8-point rule could be enacted.

“I would think we’d stay with that for a few years before adding an inside spread rule,” Fazende said. “That’s going to give everybody a chance to shoot 8-point, 8-point, 8-point.

“After that, they’ll say, ‘I want to kill a bigger rack.’”

But do Fazende and his fellow members have the fortitude to stay the course for the next several years, possibly moving up the minimum buck requirements with an eye toward maximizing their buck management?

That remains to be seen.

Fazende said his only worries are that the fun will be taken out of the hunt and that children won’t find the success necessary to encourage a passion for the sport.

“You cannot bring a kid in a club and tell him he can’t shoot anything but a trophy,” he said. “He’s going go sit on a stand and then come back and say, ‘I don’t want to go hunting anymore.’”

He said what he viewed as the perfect club would allow a child who hadn’t killed a buck to shoot any deer that walks out.

“You let him shoot a small buck, and then you tell them the next one has to meet the club’s rules,” he said.

The value of such exceptions is shown with his daughter, who quickly moved from just wanting to shoot deer to wanting to kill quality bucks.

“She said she doesn’t want to kill a small buck; she’s looking for a good deer,” Fazende said.

And 11-year-old David Fazende is further proof that stepped management works.

He’s already looking for a buck to best his 10-pointer.

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.